Ash Wednesday, Year One
[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 95 & 32, 143 (morning) // 102, 130 (evening)
Of all the ways for us to feel disappointed or abandoned by God, the way God disappoints Jonah in today’s first reading might seem surprising. Jonah the reluctant prophet proclaims imminent disaster to the wicked city of Nineveh. When the king of Nineveh hears these warnings, he takes off his robe, puts on sackcloth, and sits in ashes. He advises all other humans and animals in Nineveh to fast and cover themselves in sackcloth as well, even though there are no guarantees about the outcome. The king’s proclamation simply says, “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”
Moved by the people’s penitence, God does indeed change his mind and turn from anger . . . much to Jonah’s disappointment. Yet the anger that God turns away from finds another host: Jonah himself. When God changes his mind and calls off his punishment, “this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.”
Trying to get through to Jonah, God nurtures a bush to grow up and protect Jonah from the heat of the day. Then, God sends a worm to infest the bush so that it withers. God asks, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” Jonah replies, “Yes, angry enough to die.”
When God’s anger fails and disappoints Jonah, Jonah finds himself infected with an all-consuming anger. At first glance, it may not occur to us to be disappointed in a God who turns away from anger, but perhaps some piece of us is counting on God to share our outrage and to take it out on people who deserve it from time to time. Our faith is challenged by a God who turns out to be more compassionate than we realized.
Instead of burning with deadly anger, let’s join the king of Nineveh and sit in ashes. Who knows what will happen? We may find ourselves in the loving presence of a God whose own heart melts for us, and who longs to shade us not only from a fiery world, but from our own inner heat. May all anger around us and in us turn to ashes before it consumes us.
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.